Reflections on Southern SaaS: building a connected, collaborative tech community

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Rose McColl, from Theta’s innovation lab, attended the inaugural Southern SaaS event in Auckland last week. Here are her reflections on the event.

Globally, technology is transforming at an incredible pace, and for NZ it has the potential to change our economic model, with tech export revenues creeping up behind dairy and tourism. But to transform our economy through the tech industry, we need more people, ideas and capital. Part of the solution is creating a more connected, collaborative tech community – something that a new event called Southern SaaS was designed to facilitate.

Southern SaaS in NZ

Southern SaaS is a first-of-its-kind conference in NZ for software as a service start-ups and firms. The sold-out event was organised by Callaghan Innovation in response to demand from NZ tech businesses, and follows on from a successful Callaghan-sponsored contingent attending the massive SaaStr conference in San Francisco in February of this year. The Theta contingent attending the inaugural Southern SaaS were Andrew, Shimi, and Rose. Part of the reason for our interest in attending was to refine what we are doing with our bot-as-a-service product FAQ Bot.

The conference kicked off with a welcome from our “SaaSy” MC, David Downs. He got the 250 attendees warmed up and ready for the day ahead, then Vic Crone, CEO of Callaghan Innovation laid down a challenge to NZ SaaS companies to drive growth in our tech exports through bold, future-focused and disruptive innovation.

The conference was well-designed to create an interactive and collaborative feel for attendees, with plenty of opportunities for networking, Q&A and with the second day’s hands-on, small group workshops with experts in areas like product validation, market validation, sales strategy, pricing and packaging, and development of customer personas.

The quality of the talks and workshops was impressive, with a good variety of highly relevant topic areas covered by international and local speakers. Rich Mironov, founder of Mironov Consulting and author of “The Art of Product Management”, delivered the first session of the day. His expertise in product management was clear and he gave some excellent practical advice about market validation, learning from your customers and the importance of having an experienced product manager onboard. One of his key recommendations was to perform at least 20 in-depth interviews with your potential customers to help define what problem your product will try to solve, before doing any actual development work.

Rich Mironov

Jan Zawadzki was up next, from education software company Hapara Solutions. Jan gave some great insights into making your product work for your customer. This involves defining and closely monitoring your key metrics, understanding how you fit into the user’s day/workflow and how you can encourage potential users to change their behaviours/processes to incorporate your product.

The next two sessions covered product pricing strategy, and were delivered by Marvin Liao, Partner at 500 Startups, a Startup Accelerator based in Silicon Valley, and Gareth Berry of Unleashed Software. Marvin shared 18 principles for successful pricing, filled with gems of advice like don’t discount your product, freemium is stupid, and free trials are ok, but the shorter the better. Gareth’s talk was more subdued, but just as enlightening, with heaps of practical advice based on his own experiences with Unleashed. It was interesting to hear his take on current pricing trends, which are moving towards POA/no price displayed, annual and multiyear contracts instead of monthly, and having multi-dimensional pricing – i.e. offering different tiers as well as a menu of add-ons to give more options to your customer. Another insight on pricing was that it should be based on the value the product delivers to the customer – this was emphasised in several of the talks throughout the day, and was one of the key takeaways for Theta.

actionable insights

Jenene Crossan of Flossie and NZGirl gave the next talk, this time on a topic that affects everyone in one way, shape or form. She talked about mental health, and in particular the effects of the huge and ongoing stresses involved in founding and obtaining funding for tech startups. The talk was very much based on Jenene’s personal experiences in this area and how she was affected. She encouraged everyone in tech to get better at talking to each other about mental health as well as being open and helping each other whenever we can. The talk was affecting and Jenene got a standing ovation at the end of it – testament to how badly people need and want this kind of discussion to continue. Awesome work, Jenene.

Continuing the thread of opening up and talking to each other, a major theme of the conference was learning from failure. Several of the talks were focused around this, and attendees were encouraged to share their personal stories of failure in establishing SaaS businesses. It was great to see so many attendees willing to share their stories. Common themes shared included not establishing a large enough or clear enough target market for products, and the importance of keeping a close eye on your metrics.

Kirsty Traill of Hootsuite covered how to develop personas to maximise customer adoption, engagement and retention, and Christelle Blanchet-Aïssaoui of Proxi talked about getting the basics of product marketing right. The day finished up with Mark Clare and Kent Hammond of Clare Capital, and Josh Robb of PushPay, discussing how to use metrics well to ensure product success.

Operationalising personas

Overall the conference was packed full of useful information and we came away with a stack of actionable insights that we can incorporate into what we are doing with FAQ Bot and future SaaS initiatives. The conference was sold out, showing that this kind of event is really needed here in NZ, especially if we want to continue to create a collaborative, supportive, innovative industry and build up our tech economy into the future. Thanks to Callaghan Innovation and everyone involved for a great event!

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Rose McColl joined Theta as a summer intern, and is now a member of our innovation lab, working on an AI-powered smart content retrieval tool.